by Tom Sims
It was time for a stroll, grandpa-style.
It is a good assignment: Discover a new short trip, experience it, and write about it.
The Hidden Homes Nature Trail is located at the Coke Hallowell Center for River Studies at 11605 Old Friant Road. It is part of the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust, Inc. and can be found on Facebook.
Part of the larger whole with multiple activities is a short and manageable activity that is ideal for grandparents and grandchildren. At the River Center, (A Center of Activity for people who care about the River – 10 minutes from 41 on Friant Road) is a magical half mile walk around a living lake with multiple stations to observe nature and view child-friendly explanations of what is going on around them.
You can visit daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. The Historic Ranch House, on the property, is open Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. There is a store and information center, but mostly, the Hidden Homes Nature Trail.
On a sunny Saturday in May, four of us embarked on an impromptu journey. We found the center as they were getting nearer to closing time. So we were advised to park outside, which we did, and we enjoyed ourselves without fear of being locked in.
The gate is locked to cars and it is probably best to respect the hours, but one can get in and out on foot if necessary.
The walk around the lake takes as long as you wish to linger, observe, and pose for pictures or it can be very short depending upon your attention span–or that of the children.
In our case, there was a desire to explore and ample, well-spaced benches for grandma and grandpa to stop and observe.
As part of the larger River Center and trail system, there are other activities than the trail, but that was all we needed on that afternoon. According to the official literature, “At the River Center you can connect with the culture and natural history of the San Joaquin River through art and educational exhibits, programs and activities, gardens and links to pedestrian and bike trails. There is something for everyone at the River Center. Programs like storytelling, river-inspired art workshops, readings by local authors, gardening classes and kids’ crafts keep the place bustling with activity year-round. The River Center has a restored 1890’s ranch house, rose garden, orchard, vineyard and picnic area. The grounds and historic ranch house are available to rent for business meetings.”
The exhibits are painted with larger than life depictions of the inhabitants of the lake and river giving the children a perspective of what the environment might be like for the animals. They can crawl through a den and pose with critters painted on the walls. The photo-outcomes are almost believable.
There are rocks to climb and places to run. It is perfect. Children can experience what it is like to land in a giant eagle’s nest, visit a trail of salmon eggs, crawl through a caddis fly home, move into a mouse house, and mingle with huge eggs. They experience a few moments of living in animal homes which is the theme of the quarter mile walk, which can be walked several times as the grandparents sit at the trail head and can supervise the entire area. The view from the lake of the center is bucolic as are the mountains and river in the distance.
If we had come earlier, we could have brought our lunches. There are drinking fountains, clean restrooms, and picnic tables. The whole setting is clean, wholesome, and welcoming.
According to the web and the very helpful docents, “The proximity of the River Center to the Lewis S. Eaton Trail makes it an ideal trail staging area for walks, bicycling, or horseback riding.”
We were done with the lake before the gates closed and could have taken advantage of the very ample parking. The kids and I decided to walk further down the trail while my wife took the car and a book to meet us up the road.
The kids walked with me for the most part, but also explored a bit off the beaten path as I observed from down below. At all times, we knew where we were going and could easily keep track of each other. We could have traversed further toward Woodward Park or beyond past 41 to the parks, beaches, and attractions along the way, but that was enough for one hot afternoon.
It was a bite-sized taste of nature, an ideal end to what had already been a good day. We topped it off with some cold drinks and cookies at a nearby shopping center and slowly came to the reality that we had never left the city nor traveled far.
It was strolling, grandpa style.
Activity Links – For more fun, download and print these out for the kids!
Link – What is in a mouse house? www.riverparkway.org/images/pdfs/Programs/MOUSEHOUSECONTENTS.pdf
Link – Quiz and Worksheet -Scavenger Hunt – www.riverparkway.org/images/pdfs/Programs/hhscavengerhunt.pdf
Events in July (and repeated)
Walk with a Doc www.riverparkway.org/index.php/calendar/icalrepeat.detail/2015/07/18/156/-/walk-with-a-doc
Gardening Angels Day www.riverparkway.org/index.php/calendar/icalrepeat.detail/2015/07/18/367/-/gardening-angels-volunteer-day
San Joaquin River Parkway & Conservation Trust, Inc.
11605 Old Friant Road
Fresno, CA 93730
Entry is free; donations are encouraged.
Call (559) 248-8480 for more information.